Volume 9, Number 5 - Fall 1986

By Douglas Mahnkey

The article Taney County Baldknobbers purportedly by I. I. Haworth published in Vol. 9-No. 3, Spring, 1986 of our White River Valley Historical Society Quarterly contains some matter that requires correction or at least some clarification.

First, no doubt the name J. J. Hawortli should have been J. H. Haworth. I was well acquainted with Mr. Haworth, I. H. Haworth was presiding Judge of the Taney County Court in 1927 through 1930. During that time I was Clerk of the County Court. We were good friends, and I shall always have a great deal of respect for the Judge and his family.

I opened my first law office in January 1936 in the upper story of the Chas. H. Groom Building in old Forsyth. During that winter Mr. Haworth came to my office; required that I lock the door before he would relate his story to me. I took the story down on long hand on legal size yellow pad. His story began almost exactly as in the first paragraph of the published version. We could not finish in one day so he came back at least twice. I then typed the notes for him and still have my original notes. It was his hope to publish the story in a little booklet form, "That I can sell to the tourists at Rockaway Beach." For some reason I cannot understand, the recent article varies in many ways from the story he related to me. No doubt he had someone help him re-do his story.

With due respect to the memory of Judge J. H. Haworth and his family I feel compelled to document certain accounts that will vary from the Haworth story as published. Our quarterly purports to be a recorder of history. Students and historians in later years in their study of the Bald Knobbers may obtain some erroneous information from the recent publication.

The articles covers a rather long period of time but no dates are given. However, from the subject matter covered we can readily understand that the article covers over two decades.

Therefore, in the interest of history we must rely on official court records and publications of those times in order that the record may be kept straight.

The League for Law and Order (later called The Bald Knobbers) was organized in Forsyth, Missouri in the month of January 1885 in the back room of the Yell Everett Story.

According to news reports published at later date the original committee was composed of the following citizens and taxpayers of Taney County: Nathan N. Kinney, a Union Army Veteran from West Virginia. Col. A. S. Prather, Union Army Veteran 6th Regiment

Indiana Volunteers. Yell Everett, Forsyth merchant. P. F. Fickle, Union Army Veteran. J. B. Rice, later judge of the county court Taney County. T. W. Phillips, Captain. James B. Van Zandt, veteran of Mexican and Civil War and a minister of the Gospel. J. J. Brown, attorney of Forsyth, Missouri. G. E. Branson, later elected sheriff of the county and slain while in performance of his lawful duties. J. K. McHaffie, later sheriff of Taney County. I. A. De Long, attorney and stepson of Nathan N. Kinney. The above information except description of the parties was published in the Springfield Daily Republican, Springfield, Missouri Vol. IV, Number 155, December 29th, 1888.

The League had an official badge, a white silk ribbon with the words "Stand up for Taney County and Law and Order." Such a badge is still in existence (Mrs. Maude Nagel of Taneyville has one of the original badges. (For the story of the badge see Ozarks Mountaineer, April 1984, page 54~.

Lawlessness prevailed at the time the committee was organized. Not only in the Ozarks but throughout the Southwest. For many years following the Civil War old hatreds remained kindled and vengeance was sought against the bushwhackers who had robbed, pillaged, burned, and murdered while the best man were away fighting either for the North or the South. Mark Twain, writing of that period of our history, stated that the West could not have been settled without vigilantes.

The League’s held its meetings on the bald knobs north of Kirbyville. In those days those hills were bare of trees and known as bald knobs. The name Bald Knobbers was tacked onto the organization due to these meeting places.

Frank and Tubal Taylor lived Northeast of Forsyth and had been involved in numerous minor offenses, John T. Dickenson and his wife owned and operated a general store at Dickens, Missouri. Frank and Tubal Taylor went to the Dickenson’s store and tried to buy a pair of boots on credit. Being well acquainted with their reputation, Mr. Dickenson refused credit. The Taylor brothers drew revolvers, shot both the old people and fled to the hills. Learning that Mr. and Mrs. Dickenson were recovering from their wounds the Taylors came to Forsyth and surrendered to the sheriff. I am now 84 years of age, and I have never heard of any deal between the Taylors and the Bald Knobbers as stated in the Haworth story. Such a deal may have been struck with the sheriff or some other officer but not to my knowledge or by any record. The Taylors were lodged in jail in Forsyth. That night


a large band of horsemen rode into Forsyth. They were not masked. They rode around the court house square and warned all persons to remain indoors. The Taylor brothers were taken from the jail and hanged from the branch of a large oak tree a little north of the present Cedar Square, Forsyth.

Following the hanging of the Taylor brothers a movement arose in strong opposition to the Bald Knobhers. This opposition was known as the militia and also as anti- Bald Knobbers. Petitions against the Bald Knobbers were sent to Governor Marmaduke of Missouri.

Letters to the editor bitterly attacking the Bald Knobbers were published in the Springfield newspapers.

During April, 1886, Governor Marmaduke sent Adjutant General J. C. Jamison to Forsyth to investigate the situation. General Jamison met in Forsyth with Captain Kinney and other leaders of the Bald Knobbers. He read the articles of organization and the bylaws, then remarked, "Boys, I see nothing wrong with the principles of your order but it is against the law." Captain Kinney issued the call for all members of the order to meet at the court house in Forsyth. On the appointed day over five hundred men met on the court house grounds. Among them were lawyers, farmers, merchants, teachers and even some ministers. Captain Kinney made a brief speech explaining that their mission was now accomplished and suggesting that the order disband. My grandfather Col. A. S. Prather wrote the articles of dissolution. (Springfield Daily Herald, Vol. IV, No. 21, April 14, 1886).

Lucille Upton in her book The Bald Knobbers page 93, has this to say regarding the order of members who met on the court house lawn on that bright April day:

"It was a picturesque calvacade of five hundred hillsmen that rode into the little town to assemble on the court house lawn, most of them were farmers, roughly dressed. They represented some of the best citizenship of the county. By this time most of the county officers were Bald Knobbers. There were merchants, preachers, school teachers, in the group. They were property owners—taxpayers and proud of it. Most of them from the hill farms had slung their shot guns across their saddle horns."

So on that bright April day in 1886 the citizen’s committee was disbanded, having been in existence about fifteen months.

Now we deal with the lynching of John Bright and murder of Deputy Sheriff George Williams. This took place on March 12, 1892, long after the Bald Knob-hers had been disbanded.

Bright was charged with the murder of his wife

who was a Gideon. Friends and relatives of the murdered woman from the Bear Creek country composed the mob that took Bright from the jail in Forsyth and hanged him on a giant oak just across Swan Creek from old Forsyth. Deputy Sheriff George Williams attempted to stop the mob and was murdered for his brave effort. (See "A Dark Day in Old Forsyth," page 42 Ozarks Mountaineer, February 1983.)

In the spring of 1886 Captain Kinney shot and killed Andrew Coggburn at the old Oak Grove School House (or church house], Kinney had a warrant for Coggburn’s arrest. Haworth’s version of this makes Kinney a cold-blooded murderer. There is no doubt that Coggburn was armed and attempted to draw his revolver on Kinney. A newspaper report in the Springfield Daily Herald, Springfield, Missouri, III, No. 217 March 11, 1886, states:

"Kinney drew his revolver and ordered Coggburn to throw up his hands, The latter threw up his left hand and drew his revolver with his right, when Kinney fired, killing him almost instantly. Coggburn’s revolver was nearly level when Kinney fired. The weapon was examined later when it was found that it had caught and refused to revolve..

Coggburn was a highstrung and tempestuous young man, was outspoken against the Bald Knobbers, and reportedly had threatened Kinney’s life. (See Bald Knobbers by Lucille Upton, chapter 7, page 10.)

George Washington Middleton shot and killed Sam Snapp on the front porch of the John Kintrea store in Kirbyville. There is considerable official record on the matter. Among the files in the Circuit Clerk’s Office, Taney County, regarding the proceedings against Middleton. There is an affidavit by an officer of the court stating that Ben Prather (my uncle), if present, would testify as follows:

"I was sitting on a goods box on the Kintrea store porch reading a newspaper. Middleton and Snapp were talking. There was nothing out of the ordinary conversational tone until Middleton called Snapp ‘a damned bushwhacker’ and that’s when the trouble started."

The records reveal that the jury found Middleton guilty of murder in the second degree (not first degree) and fixed his punishment at forty years in prison. The verdict of murder in the second degree not first degree indicates that the jury found some provocation on the part of Snapp. The judge reduced the sentence to fifteen years. The judge had heard all the evidence the same as the jury and no doubt felt there were mitigating circumstances that led Middleton to fire upon Snapp, and that the jury may have acted out of passion.

The night after his conviction Middleton escaped


or was let out of jail and made his way into the Boston Mountains of Northwest, Arkansas. His brother John Middleton lived in that area. Some months later at a Fourth of July picnic 1888, at Parthenon, Arkansas, on the Little Buffalo River Wash Middleton was shot and killed by James Holt, a bounty hunter. (See articles by Mahnkey in the Ozarks Mountaineer and Hill and Holier Stories by Mahnkey, page 187).

On October 30, 1980, Mrs. Mahnkey and I visited Phoebe Siler, who was daughter of Robert Snapp at her home at 1320 North Rogers, Springfield, Missouri. Phoebe was past ninety but had a sharp memory. Her father was an older brother of Sam Snapp. That day I made a tape of the conversation I had with Phoebe Siler. I said, "We were talking about the time Sam Snapp was killed by Wash Middleton at Kirbyville. I obtained the record on that. The jury gave Middleton forty years but the judge reduced the sentence to fifteen years. That night someone let him out of jail. Some claim the Bald Knobbers let him out, and some claim the sheriff let him out. He went into Arkansas, Wash Middleton did. Now what do you remember Mrs. Siler, about what happened?"

She replied, "All I know is what my Pap told me. That Pap and Uncle Fayette hired a man to kill him. My father was Robert and my uncle was Fayette Snapp. His name was La Fayette but they always called him Fayette. Fayette lived in Harrison, Arkansas."

I asked "Do you know who the man was they hired to kill Middleton?"

Phoebe replies, "Wasn’t it Holt?" That’s the way I understand it, James Holt."

"Did you ever hear them talk about how much they paid Holt?" I asked. Phoebe said, "Five hundred dollars. Holt said he waded the Buffalo River up to his chin trying to locate Middleton."

The Haworth article attempted to describe the action in the Taney County Court at the time James Holt filed for the reward the court had offered.

After Middleton escaped jail, the Taney County Court entered the following order of record on November 9, 1887, Book 1, page 56, Records.

"Ordered that a reward of One Hundred Dollars be offered and paid for the apprehension and delivery to the sheriff of Taney County of George W. Middleton who was convicted at the October Term of the Circuit Court of Taney County of murder in the second degree, and who escaped from jail on the night of November 6th, 1887. The Clerk of this court is hereby directed to furnish a copy of this order to the Sheriff of Taney County and also cause a copy of same to be posted on the front door of the Court House in Forsyth, Missouri."

James Holt had killed Wash Middleton on July 4, 1888, at a picnic at Parathenon, Arkansas. Parathenon is on the Little Buffalo River about six miles up the river from Jasper, Arkansas.

James Holt appeared before the Taney County Court on August 7, 1888 demanding the One Hundred Dollar reward. The following is a full and complete record of those proceedings as recorded in Book I, page 247 of the Taney County Court Record:

"J. L. Holt


Taney County

Coroner’s Inquest Filed and a reward of $100.00 for apprehension of Wash Middleton Demanded.

Now on this day comes J. L. Holt and files herein the Coroner’s Inquest papers held over the body of Wash Middleton, and herein demands the reward of One Hundred Dollars for the apprehension of said Wash Middleton which was heretofore offered by the County Court of this County and after hearing and seeing the evidence produced touching the premises doth order that the case be laid over and continued until next November Term of this Court."

(A diligent search of the Court Records following that date do not reveal that payment was ever made to J. L. Halt. Probably the refusal to pay Holt the reward was based on the fact that he murdered Middieton and did not "apprehend and deliver him to the Taney County sheriff.")

The Haworth article states that Captain Kinney was present at this court hearing and had an altercation with Holt and was bluffed out. There is a conflict at this point as to date of Kinney’s death. The Court hearing on the reward was August 7, 1888. However, the Probate files in the Nathan N. Kinney Estate (which I have carefully examined) do not give the date of the Captain’s murder by Billy Miles. There is one valuable clue in the probate files and that is a bill dated August 5, 1888, from the Mercantile firm of Parrish and Boswell of Forsyth itemizing the supplies for the casket and clothing for the Captain’s burial. Mrs. Kinney, the widow, filed application for widow’s pension two years later, and the date in the application gives the date of his death as August 20, 1888.

The Haworth article in the quarterly states:

"During the time the Knobbers had eighteen men killed," The official records nor does legend bear this out. The Bald Knobbers were in existence for only about 15 months and took two lives, the hanging of the Taylor brothers as heretofore referred to. I will admit that many murders took place on the years following the Civil War, but mostly by bushwhackers and


by persons taking revenge on the bushwhackers for their evil deeds during the war.

Mr. Haworth attempts to narrate the murder of Captain Kinney by Billy Miles. I am not past my 84th birthday and have heard many versions of this murder. Sifting through the maze of information the statement of Charles H. Groom, lawyer and abstractor stands out like a beacon light through all the haze and speculation. Some time in 1927 Mr. Groom and I were discussing the murder of Captain Kinney, and I well recall what Mr. Groom said, "I was hoeing in my garden about three blocks from the store where the murder took place. I heard a pistol shot and in the same instant I heard Captain Kinney scream like a wild beast. Then more pistol shots. I ran to the store and rushed inside. I found Kinney dead or dying in the floor. I distinctly noted that he was not armed. His two revolvers remained in their holsters and were laying on the dry goods shelf behind the counter. It was a very warm day, the pistols and holster with the heavy belt were uncomfortable so Kinney had taken them off and they were far beyond his reach."

According to Haworth: "On Sunday, Bill Miles, his brothers, and Kinney made friends. This, however, was a little scheme so Bill could get at Kinney at any time he wanted to let him have it."

Haworth goes into some detail describing the killing of Eden and Green in Christian County. This is no part of the Taney County Bald Knobber History. The Eden and Green murders occured more than a year after the Taney County committee was disbanded. Lucille Morris relates that the Walkers and Matthews who were charged with the Eden and Green murders appealed to the former Bald Knobbers in Taney County for financial assistance in their trials but none was given. I wrote an article about the trial of the Walkers and Matthews for the Ozarks Mountaineer which was re-published in Hill and Holier Stories beginning on page 179. See also Missouri Reports, Volume 98, pages 95 to 136. On the appeal of Dave Walker, Judge Thomas A. Sherwood wrote a blistering dissent, disagreeing with the majority of the Court in the decision to uphold the conviction of Dave Walker which was death by hanging. The majority opinion broke away from long established principles of criminal law and established for the first time in Missouri the rule of conspiracy.

Beginning at page 23 of the Haworth story is an attempt to describe the murder of Taney County Sheriff G. E. Branson and his Deputy, Frank Funk. There are many versions of this incident. No doubt the sheriff had a warrant for the arrest of Bill Miles. My mother was at this Kirbyville picnic when the murders occurred so were my grand-parents, A.S. and Maria Prather. I recall their versions of what happened. Recently I visited with a man whose father saw the whole thing. All agree that the Miles boys had been dancing on the platform and had all gone with a cousin to the spring for a drink of water. It was in the late afternoon. The sheriff and his deputy had been riding all day looking for Billy Miles. They located him by in-query at the Kirbyville picnic. The officers went to the spring which is located in the field just West of the present village of Kirbyville. Billy Miles was down in the walled up Spring dipping water for the boys to drink. Deputy Funk walked up and called to him. "Are you Miles?" Billy replied "Yes". Then Funk asked "Billy Miles?" Miles answered "Yes". Funk then said "I have a warrant for your arrest." Just then some of the Miles gang shot Funk in the back, and another killed the sheriff.

It so happened that several friends and relatives of the Miles brothers were present. Mr. Haworth states that the Miles brothers always came clear. But official records reveal that in all their misdeeds they managed to have plenty of friendly witnesses on hand to testify for them.

My grandmother, Maria Prather, lived nearby. She brought bed sheets from her home to cover the bodies of Branson and deputy Funk. My mother witnessed the examination of the bodies by Dr. Anderson. Grandmother took the widow and small children of the dead sheriff home with her for the night and comforted them as best she could.

The days Mr. Haworth wrote about were wild and lawless ones. I trust by now that most of the old animosities are forgotten.

It is rather sad that Mr. Haworth closes his long narrative with these words:

"We were, however, responsible, for we did get rid of three Bald Knobbers, Branson, Funk and Kinney."

Therefore, the anti-BaldKnobbers were guilty of the very thing they accused the Committee for Law and Order of doing, that is acting as judge, jury and executioner.


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